Why teachers must sow the seeds of Stem careers

11th April 2014 at 01:00
Explain options to students to avert skills crisis, experts say

More has to be done to help teachers ignite passion among students for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) in order to avoid a skills crisis in Scotland, industry experts have warned.

Careers advisers, teachers and parents were often unaware of the opportunities that the Stem sector had to offer, and were therefore unable to pass on accurate information to students, the experts told the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee.

Maggie Morrison, a director at global IT business CGI, said she did not believe that careers advice accurately reflected the chances available to people with strong Stem qualifications.

"The company that I currently work for is creating 250 software development jobs in Glasgow and we cannot find the skills that we need," she said. "We are looking for hundreds of people altogether, but the system is not producing kids with the aspiration to work in the industry."

It was not down to government and businesses alone to find a solution, she added - others also had a role to play.

"Somehow or other, we need to connect with all the people who influence children - their peers, parents, teachers and careers advisers - so that Scotland can continue to succeed and be at the forefront of what the country has always done superbly well, which is science, technology, engineering and maths."

Garry Clark, head of policy and public affairs at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said that his members felt it was crucial to give young people as much experience of the workplace as possible. However, he added that they saw it as "just as important to get teachers into businesses for work experience".

Mr Clark told the committee it was essential that "teachers and parents are educated about the opportunities that are out there - not just the opportunities now but those in five, six or 10 years' time - to ensure that young people can make the best possible decisions about their careers".

Ms Morrison said she did not want to apportion blame, but "perhaps teachers and parents have not done a good enough job of outlining the opportunities to young people".

"If we look at the rise of Facebook.we see that that phenomenon has happened within the past five to 10 years, and parents who were at university or teachers who studied long ago have not seen the evolution. I wonder how we can inspire them, keep them up to date and help them to understand what is out there."

She added that if she had entered teaching straight after university, she would not be entirely aware of the chances that were available to young people, unless she "made an effort to find out or unless there was some way of keeping me fresh and current with the opportunities that are out there. The same is also true of career advisers."

And Mr Clark said: "I do not want to bash teachers, but a lot of them have gone down the academic route and that is what they know. We need to bring vocational education into the mainstream, and there are a lot of high-paid opportunities down those routes."

A spokesman for the EIS teaching union stressed the importance of adequate information for students. "This requires sufficient resourcing for schools, both in terms of support in areas such as career guidance information for pupils and in professional development opportunities for teachers," he added.

A spokesman for Skills Development Scotland said that the organisation was working "to highlight the vast array of exciting opportunities in Stem in a variety of ways".

"We also make sure that our My World of Work web service reflects the opportunities that young people have in Scotland and relates to the needs of our businesses," he added. "We are continually considering what we do and looking to build strong partnerships with schools to offer young people the advice that they need."

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